Curbside Classic: 1976 Chrysler Cordoba – Fine Corinthian Brougham

(first posted 5/15/2012)     If you grew up in the Seventies, you know this car. You know it very well. If any one car could best define that wild and crazy decade, the Chrysler Cordoba may be it.

The Cordoba was Mopar’s answer to the burgeoning personal luxury car market. For years, Chrysler Division had a “no small cars” policy and thus the entire lineup was land yachts. But after the muscle car era faded in the early ’70s, it was replaced with personal luxury cars such as the Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Monte Carlo and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Chrysler did not have an entry in this new and hot market. Something had to be done. The 1975 Cordoba, advertised as “the small Chrysler”, was the answer.

The Cordoba originated as a premium Plymouth coupe, but as it was nearing completion (with its sibling the Dodge Charger SE), Ma Mopar decided that it would sell better – and at a greater profit – as a Chrysler. The ’75 model had all of the mid-1970s Brougham/luxury car cues: shag carpet, power everything, opera lamps and available wire wheel covers. And let us not forget the soft Corinthian leather! Buckets and a console were also there for the taking.

The Cordoba was based on the B-body Plymouth Fury and Dodge Coronet, but had unique sheetmetal, a 114.9 inch wheelbase, and the longest doors in the industry, at 58.5″ long. It also had several “neoclassic” features, the most obvious being the headlamps and parking lamps being set into tunneled pods. While it was meant to recall classic cars of the 1930s, there was more than a passing resemblance to the contemporary Jaguar XJ6 and XJ12 sedans. A two barrel, 150 hp 318 was standard, with Torqueflite automatic transmission. A 400 V8 was available for an extra $73.

While the Dodge Charger Special Edition (the standard Chargers were basically Coronet coupes) was virtually identical to the $5581 Cordoba, it did not sell near as well as its corporate cousin. The flossier interiors and snob appeal of the Chrysler led to 150,105 Cordobas vs. 30,812 Charger SEs in their inaugural year, despite a much lower price of $4903. It just wasn’t as Broughamy enough, apparently. Plus, Ricardo Montalban didn’t do any Dodge commercials.

The Cordoba was Chrysler Division’s only bright spot for 1975, as sales of New Yorkers and Newports slid by 12% from 1974. Cordobas made up 60% of total 1975 Chrysler production. It was the right car at the right time.

Cordobas were engineered in typical Mopar fashion, with unibody construction and front torsion bar/rear leaf spring suspension. An optional Sure-Grip differential helped keep Corbobas from getting stuck in the snow. Chrysler wisely chose to not mess with success. The 1976 Cordoba was virtually identical, but sported a simple vertical bar grille instead of the ’75’s busier version.

While 1976 sales were not quite as wonderful as 1975’s figure, it was still very good, with over 120,000 sold. It was Chrysler’s hot new product, and very different from the New Yorker Broughams, Town & Countrys and Newports it shared showrooms with.

While even the basic Cordoba was very comfortable, there were naturally many, many optional comfort, convenience and appearance options. While all Cordobas came with opera windows and an opera lamp on the B-pillar, a “halo” full vinyl roof or landau roof could be added. I doubt many Cordobas were delivered with the standard steel roof.

I first spotted our featured Cordoba on Easter, as I was returning home from my parents’ house. It was dark, but I spotted it immediately. I haven’t seen one of these in probably twenty years, so I returned the very next day for pictures. But it was gone. Several days later, I finally spotted it again, in the very same spot. It is in remarkably nice shape.

The ’76 is my favorite year of Cordoba. I like the simple vertical bar grille much better than the overdone ’75 and ’77 grilles. It hits all the Brougham-era luxury cues: landau roof, wire wheel covers, Spanish-doubloon type emblems, opera lights, and opera lamps. Could it have fine Corinthian leather?

No, but this is clearly a 1970s luxury car interior. This was one of the several optional interiors (other choices included brocade, velour or leather), dubbed “Castillian” by Chrysler. It was apparently the industry’s first Jacquard interior upholstery, formulated no doubt by leisure suit-attired scientists.

Cordoba’s appearance was little-changed for the 1977 model year, with the expected grille and tail light revisions. A new Crown landau top was introduced, however. Shown above, it featured a different window treatment and an illuminated band on the B-pillar. I would have loved to see a Crown-roofed Cordoba at night; it must have looked pretty cool all lit up!

Again as usual, Mr. Montalban was the official Cordoba spokesman. He would remain in Chrysler advertising even after the Cordoba was discontinued in 1983. Does anyone else remember the Chrysler Crystal key commercials he did in the 1980s?

Walking around this car, it’s hard for me to imagine this being advertised as “the small Chrysler”. But it was small when parked next to a New Yorker Brougham. And it’s much more svelte than the ’74 T-Bird I had photographed a week earlier.

1977 was the last year the Cordoba wore its attractive tunneled headlights and parking lamps. 1977 was also the Cordoba’s best production year, with 183,146 produced.

I can’t help but wonder where this car came from. It was absolutely mint. I haven’t seen one of these in a long time, and even twenty years ago most of them were major rustbuckets. A nearby neighbor had a nice navy blue ’78 or ’79, but other than that one, every Cordoba I saw was really worn out. Someone really loved this car, and it shows.

As for the Cordoba itself, a questionable facelift in 1978 (CC here) resulted in stacked quad headlamps and flatter, plainer tail lamps. While not bad looking, the 1975-77 was much more attractive in my opinion. The facelift also had the unfortunate effect of making the car look a lot like a 1976-77 Monte Carlo, at least from the front. Sales dipped to 124,825, but how much of that was due to its styling is questionable, as Chrysler was sliding into one of its periodic crises.

These Cordobas just screamed the 1970s personal luxury Brougham era, and may well be the only car non-automotive people will remember. Just say “Corinthian leather” and they will know what you’re talking about!